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Joseph Toltz: Final project report

By Joseph Toltz

In January 2018, prior to the final conference at the British Library, I went to Spain to interview Liliana Cordoba-Kaczerginski, the daughter of the most significant Holocaust zamler (collector of Yiddish music), Szmerke Kaczerginski. Ms Cordoba-Kaczerginski generously gave of her time and talked to me about the songs for which her father was most famous.

After the conference, I flew to Vienna where I had the opportunity to hear a performance of two of Wilhelm Grosz’s larger symphonic works: his Overture für einer Opera Buffa Op. 14, followed by the one-act tragic-comic burlesque Achtung, Aufnahme! Op. 25. Both works were performed by students of the Musik und Kunst Privatuniversität der Stadt Wien, directed by the wonderful Dr. Andreas Stoehr. In the 1920s, the first work was later adapted as the overture for Grosz’s only large-scale opera, Sganarell. This modern performance took place on 18 January 2018 at the RadioKulturHaus ORF, and was the premiere of Achtung, Aufnahme! in Grosz’s home town.

Performances of music by Wilhelm Grosz, Vienna, January 2018 (flyer)

In April 2018 I travelled to the United States to co-present with Dr Anna Boucher at the 25th International Conference of Europeanists in Chicago. We talked about our work with the first Holocaust songbook, Mima’amakim: folkslider fun di getos un lagers in poylin. Joining us on our panel was Dr Brigid Cohen (NYU) and Dr Andrea Bohlman (UNC-Chapel Hill). Both Brigid and Andrea gave engaging and fascinating papers, with responses from the inspirational Professor Leora Auslander (University of Chicago). I had two other speaking engagements on this tour of North America. I gave the Al and Malka Green Lecture in Yiddish at the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies, at the University of Toronto. My subject was on musical memories from Łódź Ghetto Child Survivors in Australia, which can be viewed on YouTube.

The second engagement was a very special symposium, Laughing at Power, Fascism and Authoritarianism: Satire, Humor, Irony, and interrogating their Political Efficacy. Scholars from around the world gathered to talk these issues through, with three special performances to add to the mix: Eli Valley talking about comics as protest art, Jewlia Eisenberg and David Shneer performing anti-fascist cabaret songs by Lin Jaldati, and Anna Shternshis and Psoy Korolenko singing Yiddish anti-fascist songs from wartime Soviet Union, rediscovered in the Beregovski Archive in Kiev, Ukraine.

Special Presentation: Torah Scroll rescued from Czechoslovakia, Jewish Holocaust Centre in Elsternwick

Arriving home in Australia, I travelled to Melbourne to consecrate a Czech Torah scroll at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Elsternwick. The scroll was saved from Nazi desecration in the early 1940s, neglected during the Communist era and saved again in the 1960s, when it and 1567 other scrolls were relocated and restored by The Memorial Scrolls Trust at Westminster Synagogue. The scroll is from the town of Valašske Meziríčí in Moravia. Six Jews survived from this town. The synagogue was destroyed in the 1950s and the desecrated cemetery bulldozed. As custodians for the scroll, the Jewish Holocaust Centre will give new life to this scroll and its story.

Today (June 26th), I’m sitting in a small apartment in Vienna, having spent the last 8 or so days going through the Wilhelm Grosz Archive at the Exil.Arte Zentrum. It was 7 years ago that I got to know Dr Michael Haas. It was his introduction to Jean Forman that placed me on the road to discovery with Wilhelm Grosz, and it was Performing the Jewish Archive who brought Grosz back to the listening public most recently. The family archive is in safe hands here at Exil.Arte. The generosity of Professor Gerold Gruber, Dr Michael Haas, Dr Ulrike Anton and the wonderful and helpful archivist, Katharina Reischl, has been overwhelming. I must thank the Sydney Conservatorium of Music for allowing me to take time off to do this initial examination of the material (which only arrived in Vienna two weeks prior to my visit).

Wilhelm Grosz

I have been through almost every box of Grosz’s collection, and as well as piecing together the puzzle of this remarkable life, there are some wonderful and exciting discoveries waiting to come to life again in performance. I am especially grateful to Magistera Anita Taschler and Professor Gerold Gruber for facilitating funding through the Erasmus+ scheme. None of this would have been possible without Performing the Jewish Archive. The project has provided opportunities for research and travel that I never thought possible, and I am eternally grateful to the Leeds and York team, and the UK Arts & Humanities Research Council for believing in the vision articulated in 2014.

Dr. Joseph Toltz
Sydney Conservatorium of Music
The University of Sydney

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‘Prince Bettliegend’ in Australia and Cape Town

By Lisa Peschel

During my nearly 20 years of research on the cultural life of the World War II Jewish Ghetto at Theresienstadt (in Czech, Terezín) many tantalizing fragments have come to light. In addition to the complete theatrical scripts that were preserved (see my anthology Performing Captivity, Performing Escape for details), individual scenes and songs provide clues about the rich theatrical life of the ghetto.

One of the most intriguing finds was a set of songs for a musical called Prince Bettliegend (Prince Bedridden). Several survivors recalled the lyrics to these songs, which were set to popular melodies from the interwar Liberated Theatre in Prague. The Terezín lyrics had been preserved, even published, but the libretto was nowhere to be found. What story had these songs accompanied? In the summer of 2017, the Performing the Jewish Archive project provided me with not just one but two opportunities to reconstruct that story.

PtJA co-investigator Joseph Toltz and I had talked about the songs over the years, due to our shared interest in Terezín and the Liberated Theatre. When he began organising our Out of the Shadows festival in Australia, he invited me to work with him and colleagues at the University of Sydney to create a performance of Prince Bettliegend. We knew that a true reconstruction was impossible – all we had were the songs, a poster, and several fragments of survivor testimony about the play – but we aimed to reimagine the musical in a way that would speak to audiences today. Because our South African festival was scheduled to take place mere weeks after the Sydney festival, I asked our collaborators in Cape Town and Stellenbosch if they would be interested in creating their own version of Prince Bettliegend, based just on the songs and a detailed plot outline that we would provide. Thus two radically different re-imaginings emerged, each speaking to very different audiences while at the same time remaining completely faithful to the history of the ghetto.

Australia

Robert Jarman as the King, Sydney 2017. Photograph by David Goldman

Joseph approached Dr Ian Maxwell at the University of Sydney about the project, and he and his head of department, Dr Laura Ginters, devised an ambitious plan. Ian recruited five actors who were part of the Sydney alternative theatre scene and challenged them to help us create the story, and Laura incorporated the project into a performance ethnography module: a group of theatre undergraduates would observe and write on our creative process as part of their coursework. The actors improvised around a plot outline that I had created, based on survivor memories and the song lyrics, and that Ian, Joseph and I had fleshed out immediately upon my arrival in Sydney.

Joseph also brought music director Dr Kevin Hunt into the project to arrange the music for a student jazz ensemble at the Sydney Conservatorium. Joseph and Kevin’s early work with the actors on the songs set the tone of the piece: it was unexpectedly light-hearted. The Liberated Theater’s founders Jiří Voskovec and Jan Werich were committed anti-fascists, but they were also comedians. The jazz melodies by their brilliant composer, Jaroslav Ježek, accompanied hilarious lyrics that cut the Nazi regime down to size and emphasized the strength of ordinary but united people. Terezín prisoners Josef Lustig, Jiří Spitz and František Kovanic, who created Prince Bettliegend, borrowed the melodies for their own comic fairy tale. In brief, the King (clearly an allegory for the Jewish leadership of the ghetto) promises the hand of his daughter in marriage to whomever can cure the Prince of a mysterious ailment that prevents him from getting out of bed. Two comic characters, Hocus and Pocus, try to save him, only to find out that the King is actually bribing a ghetto doctor to ensure that the Prince remains ill – and therefore cannot be sent away on an ongoing transport.

What did this mean in Terezín terms? The prisoners feared outgoing transports ‘to the East’ as a voyage into the unknown and were desperate to avoid them, sometimes drawing on personal connections with ghetto leaders or resorting to bribery to be removed from transport lists. Thus Prince Bettliegend was a satire on favouritism and corruption in the ghetto. The reality, however, was much worse than the creators of the musical could have imagined: the Nazis successfully concealed the true destination of the transports – most went to Auschwitz – until the end of the war.

After studying the history of the ghetto and the influence of Voskovec and Werich with our actors, our response to the material was unanimous: we would honour the original piece by keeping its comic tone. But our own themes soon emerged. Through an accident of casting – all of the actors except the one playing Bettliegend himself were in their late 40s or 50s – the plot began to revolve around the efforts of the older prisoners to save the life of the young prince. This theme was also true to the history of Terezín. The Jewish leaders of the ghetto devoted their scarce resources to protecting children and youth as much as possible. The large number of survivors younger than 16 years of age – over 1600 – is a testament of the success of their efforts.

The result of our development process? The three nights of the run sold out to enthusiastic audiences, and the performance can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/246407843. There are many moments of revelation, of laughter, of a sense of connection with the Terezín actors that I will always remember, but perhaps one is the most intense. Edith Sheldon, a Terezín survivor living in Sydney, advised us on the performance. While she and I were watching a rehearsal, she began to sing along: not our English-language lyrics, but the original Czech lyrics from Terezín , which she not only remembered – as she told us, all the young Czech Jews sang those songs in the ghetto – but remembered with great pleasure. The value of bringing this work into the present merged with the value of eliciting her unexpected memories: memories of the pleasure she experienced due to the creativity of her fellow prisoners, even in a World War II Jewish ghetto.

South Africa

Devonecia Swartz & Breyten Treunicht as Hocus & Pocus, Cape Town, 2017

While the Australian team was developing Prince Bettliegend, Amelda Brand at Stellenbosch University, supported by her head of department Professor Petrus Du Preez, took on the plot outline and songs and began to work with a multi-racial student cast to develop their own version. Music director Leonore Bredekamp developed her own klezmer-inflected versions of the songs for a five-piece ensemble.

Because I was not present for the development of the South African production, my first viewing, a dress rehearsal just a few days before the show opened, was a revelation. While studying the history of the ghetto together, Amelda and her students drew many parallels with the history of racial discrimination in South Africa. Through casting and the development of their own script, privilege became equated with race: the Prince was being saved because he was white, and the characters Hocus and Pocus, played by black actors, use their wiles to survive in a ghetto where they had no access to such privilege.

The show was performed twice to enthusiastic audiences, and can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/242929339. The cast was subsequently invited to perform Prince Bettliegend at the annual Word Festival in Stellenbosch, to great acclaim. The most emotional moment for me, however, remains the first time I saw the ending at the dress rehearsal. During the finale song, each performer stepped forward in turn, said the name of the Terezín actor who had played their role, and briefly described the fate of that actor. It was tremendously moving to see these students, many of whom were the same age as the Terezín actors, recite brief bios such as ‘she survived and returned to Prague after the war’ or, much too often, simply ‘he perished’.

Conclusion

After viewing both versions, and hearing from both casts what this project had meant to them, I can only conclude that the story Lustig, Spitz and Kovanic created in Terezín, set to Ježek’s brilliant melodies, is still incredibly, flexibly alive. Two very different casts on two very different continents were able to imbue the performance with meaning, personally and for their present-day audiences, while remaining true to the history of the ghetto. The PtJA project has always aimed to bring the lost works of Jewish artists into the present, and I can think of no more fitting way to honour these artists than to let Prince Bettliegend live and breathe in today’s world, speaking to new artists and new audiences all over the world.

This entry was posted in News.

PtJA in Israel

By David Fligg

PtJA’s Project Consultant, David Fligg, avoided the Beast from The East’s wintry weather in late February, by escaping to Israel.

Amongst his activities there, he was invited to give a lecture in Modi’in, to the Israel Genealogical Research Association (IGRA) on how he’s applied archival research methods in tracking down information on Gideon Klein’s family, material which was assumed to have been lost during the Holocaust. The invitation came via Modi’in resident, originally from Leeds, Marion Stone, who attended the PtJA’s ‘Out of the Shadows’ festival in the Czech Republic. Marion later wrote an article about the festival for Israel’s leading ex-pat publication Esra Magazine. That prompted journalist Lucille Cohen to write her own article for the magazine, as previously reported on the PtJA’s website, which in turn, and in a roundabout way, resulted in David’s invitation from IGRA.  

David was also invited by Gila Flam, Director of the Music Department of the National Library of Israel, to view the music and sound archive there. Gila is closely associated with the PtJA’s work, and curates the largest single collection of Jewish and Israeli music in print, manuscripts and recordings.

David Fligg and Gila Flam peruse the Naomi Shemer archive

“It’s a unique collection,” says David, “and I was genuinely overwhelmed by what I saw. For me, one of the highlights was being able to look through the personal archive of the songwriter Naomi Shemer, and actually see her original manuscript of the song ‘Jerusalem of Gold’—there in Jerusalem!”

David and Gila were also joined by Zvi Semel from the Jerusalem Academy for Music and Dance, and the Jerusalem Music Centre who, like Gila, has presented at PtJA events. One of the outcomes of David’s visit is that the Library plans to host the Israeli launch of David’s forthcoming biography of Gideon Klein.

Tel Aviv’s Karov Theatre was also on David’s itinerary, as the theatre is keen to stage a Hebrew language performance of Gideon Klein: Portrait of a Composer, and accompanying educational workshops. The play was originally devised by David for the ‘Out of the Shadows’ festivals in the UK, USA and Czech Republic, and the production has been re-dramatised by playwright Brian Daniels for performances to mark Klein’s centenary next year.

“The Karov Theatre is especially interesting,” explains David, “focusing as it does on cultural and educational projects in the community, and discovering, and working with, young talents—ideals which would have resonated with Klein’s own vision as an educator.”

Funding is central to Karov’s envisaged production. Says David, “If any generous sponsors are interested in this project, they should contact me directly at david.fligg@rncm.ac.uk.”

David, Fligg, Gila Flamm and Zvi Semel in front of Mordecai Ardon’s stained glass window, National Library of Israel

David’s new biography of Gideon Klein will be issued by Toccata Press in 2019 for the Klein centenary. As part of the centenary commemorations, David, along with other PtJA colleagues, will stage a series of events in the Czech Republic, GidoFest100. Gideon Klein: Portrait of a Composer will be performed in repertory at Prague’s Svando Theatre in Czech from December 2019, and in its English version during 2020.

David’s chapter on Klein will appear in The Routledge Companion to Music under German Occupation, 1938-1945: Propaganda, Myth and Reality, to be published later this year. His performing editions of Klein’s Topol (The Poplar Tree), and Movement for Solo Harp are shortly to be published by Boosey and Hawkes.

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A life-changing experience

Libby Clark (PtJA Project Manager) interviews Emma Dolby (Undergraduate Research Scholar) about her three years with the project

Libby Clark: Emma, tell us a little bit about your role in PtJA and what you have been working on over the last three years

Emma Dolby: I’ve been the Undergraduate Research & Leadership Scholar and I’ve been working with PtJA for three summers. In June 2015, at the end of my first year, I helped the team to run the ‘Magnified and Sanctified’ conference, and then I spent 10 weeks helping to collate information to form a portable project exhibition. It was the first time I had been in a research environment and it was quite exciting to meet a lot of researchers from all round the world. That summer involved a lot of emailing, a lot of corresponding and Skype meetings. I started editing things, which I had never done before, and then talking to a graphic designer which I had never done before, talking about how the design could work, looking up the different kinds of physical exhibition we could have. It was the first time I’d had to help to manage a project and that was quite exciting.

In my second summer I used the content from the exhibition and turned it into a draft educational package for schools. So it was thinking back to when I was at school and how I could make the material accessible for school pupils. I even ended up phoning my old teacher! I also phoned a lot of educational centres, which now has proved really, really useful because I am applying to be a teacher. So actually saying I have written a load of lesson plans is really useful.

And then in the summer of 2017 I went with the team to the Cape Town festival and helped with the festival logistics; and finally, I helped to manage logistics for the Future of the Archive project conference at the British Library in January 2018.

PtJA exhibition at the Prague Conservatory, 2016

Libby Clark: Looking back over the three years you have worked with PtJA, could you reflect on the key skills that you have learnt through this scholarship scheme?

Emma Dolby: I feel like research, leadership and event management are three skills that I have really built on. I feel like in comparison to had I just done my degree on its own, I would have learned more about research because you’ve got to do it for your essays and dissertation and all those sorts of things, but I understand a lot more why research is important, what the context of it is and actually what happens to the research. Because as undergraduates, our essays go from us, to the lecturer and back again, they go nowhere, I’m glad they don’t, but actually being in a project where the research matters and it actually affects people’s lives, and it’s to do with learning about real people who existed, I think that has been a really important skill to learn: actually what is research, why do we do it and how do we do it. And again, just being able to talk to professional academics and researchers that do this on a daily basis, and they have been really lovely and kind and patient and explained everything to me and, without trying to sound clichéd, have taken me on the journey of PtJA.

Another skill is leadership. I think being – and this is a good thing, not a bad thing – I think being thrown in at the start and just being given an exhibition and being told, right, this is your job for 10 weeks, you do this, we are here to support you, but you do it. And at first that was quite daunting. I was only 19 at the time and I was thinking, ‘I can’t do this, you are all much more qualified than me, what am I doing?’ And actually over the 10 weeks, I started to build my confidence and understand a bit more how you manage a set of people, how deadlines work, how you have to set them before the actual deadline, because things go wrong, people go off ill, or people can’t send you things, or actually, you receive them and then something happens that means you can’t do anything with it. So time management has definitely come into that!

Finally, learning about the management of events was another side of it that was really exciting because with this scholarship you do see lots of different elements of a project. At the first project conference in 2015, I was just doing what I was told and was happy to do as I was told! And then I feel that each time I’ve done a conference or festival I’ve learnt a lot more so by the last one, I knew how a conference worked. I knew what sort of delegates would be turning up, I knew how a session ran and I also knew the team a lot better so I could actually talk to them and communicate with them about what was happening. And those skills, I’ve really been able to bring into this event that I’m organising – The Undergraduate Research Experience – because now I’m helping to project manage that, it means the skills and observations that I’ve made over two conferences and two festivals I’ve been able to bring into this event.

University of Leeds Undergraduate Research Experience

Libby Clark: So you have mentioned an event you are organising – The Undergraduate Research Experience. Could you reflect on what you have learned from working with PtJA and what it might have been like to manage that event without the experience you have gained?

Emma Dolby: Without trying to sound too clichéd, I think without PtJA I wouldn’t have done a lot of the things I’ve done at University. I think the number of doors it has opened has been ridiculous. And it has been amazing and without PtJA I genuinely don’t think I would even have applied to organise the Undergraduate Research Experience conference, because I would have had no clue how to run an event, no clue how to plan an event and I think almost all of the skills I’m using for this event have either been developed from or completely made from PtJA. Obviously some of the stuff is just using your initiative, but it’s being able to use your initiative effectively and I think that has really been something that I have had to build on. Everything from when we were in South Africa and the exhibition didn’t turn up and I think if I had been on my own at that point I would have gone ‘well, I don’t know what to do’. But being able to observe what happens at that point was really good. And I think that’s the joy of this scholarship, it runs alongside your degree and now, actually, it takes it even further because going into teaching being able to say ‘I’ve run an event, I’ve managed a team of researchers for the exhibition, I’ve gone to a different country and had to help out at a project in a different country’ and I think PtJA for me has been one of the biggest changes to my University experience and a very, very enjoyable and positive one. I think it has really benefited my skills and really helped my confidence as well. I’ve managed to spend my spare time at University building up skills, developing myself and by doing something different that I didn’t expect.

Libby Clark: Have there been challenges?

Emma Dolby: Yes! I think there is in anything you do, obviously, and I think without the challenges things would be boring. One that definitely springs to mind is running a conference without you! Sitting in that hotel room the night before going ‘well, this is interesting!’ So yeah, it was being chucked in in an amazing way and again, I really wish you hadn’t got ill because that’s not nice for you and it would have been a lot easier with you there, but for me personally having that as the end of my scholarship has shown me how far I’ve come. From my first day walking in here in my first summer going ‘I don’ know what I’m doing’, sat at the computer going ‘do I just send emails?’ And I remember I wouldn’t send an email without actually getting either you or Steve to check it at first, I couldn’t write one, and by the end I was running a conference. And I think that transition just never would have happened without PtJA. I think for me that was a massive development at university, that I think needed to happen and that I wanted to happen. I didn’t necessarily expect it to happen in anyway, let alone this way. And it’s also just learning a different perspective, you know, I think university sometimes can make you very tunnel visioned, I need to get these grades and that’s all that university is. But I have realised that university isn’t just about getting grades, there is a life out there and it is about enjoying learning, it’s about actually developing yourself and I think I managed to learn that a bit earlier on in university because doing summers working with the research team, really learning why research is important, rather than research just being to put it in a 4000 word essay, to give it to your lecturer to try and get a good mark. I think the context of why we do this is really important and something that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise

Libby Clark: Thinking about some of the skills that you have learned, what big things would you take forward and apply in the future?

Emma Dolby: Definitely leadership and management of things I think is really important career-wise for me. Being a teacher, yes I won’t be managing academics who are older than me, I’ll be managing tiny children, but if I can take those skills to any job it will be really useful. I’m now more confident in asking people to do things and I think as a teacher that’s really important; if I do end up being a fully qualified teacher with a teaching assistant in my room, I’ve got to have the confidence to ask them to do things without doubting whether my knowledge is enough, if that makes sense. So yeah, managing events, managing people, being able to work with people, being able to lead is definitely something I will take forward.

As I say, and I think I have touched on this, just having the confidence to know that I can do stuff because university is about – for a lot of students including myself – university is about learning things and then applying them to an academic essay and I think actually having the confidence to use that knowledge is quite important. I came out of school being told ‘you can do music, you’re practical’. I didn’t class myself as being clever because there were a lot of people at my school who were a lot more academic than me. But actually to be told, you have worked in an academic environment for three years, you have helped them, is quite nice. Although I know I want to be a teacher I can always see myself wanting to learn more and maybe doing research for other reasons. I can see myself, now I know how lessons plans work and that teachers can take things that they find interesting and teach the children that, I think because I enjoy research I’m going to enjoy making those lessons, because I am going to be able to learn at the same time as my students. And again, I don’t think that’s something I would have had the confidence to do, to think, you know what I actually really enjoy researching, I can research, I can look up things so that I can benefit the people that I am teaching.

Libby Clark: If you were talking to someone right at the beginning of their Undergraduate Research Scholar career, what advice would you offer them?

Emma Dolby: First off I would tell them how amazing it is, because there is no way I would have expected the amount of experiences and amazing opportunities that are given to you. And I remember being told, and I think it is one of the best pieces of advice, ‘when you are in the Undergraduate Scholarship, always say yes to things’ and I have tried to follow that as much as I could and it’s benefited me. When you said to me ‘do you want to go to Cape Town?’, if I had said no it would have been terrible! If I had been like ‘well, it’s so far away, and I don’t know if I can do it and I don’t know if it will fit in with me going away for my year in industry’ I wouldn’t have had one of the biggest and best experiences I have ever had. So I would say to someone, just take any opportunity that gets given to you, if it doesn’t go well that’s fine. And do you know what, you can always say to someone, ‘this is a little bit too much, but I wanted to have a go’. 

Also I would advise a future scholar not to think of it as research for someone else and you are only there to help them. It is actually something to help you as well. I’ve learned so much and it’s really exciting because I have had discussions with people about the research that PtJA do, and actually watching them get excited as well is amazing, and the joy of spreading that research to other people is really lovely. 

Emma with the PtJA research team at the final concert in Cape Town, 2017

Finally, the people you meet are incredible. I now live with someone I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t done the scholarship, I frequently see people that I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t done the scholarship, and the team that I have been on have been so lovely, so patient, have put up with me for so long and they are people I wouldn’t have met, and experiences I wouldn’t have had. So I would say to someone, take every opportunity that gets given to you, enjoy it and absorb everything because you are there to learn and the people around you want you to learn.

This entry was posted in News.

Newsletter Issue 10

Our latest newsletter is now out. To read it click here 

This entry was posted in News.

‘Out of the Shadows’ in Cape Town and Stellenbosch: a truly lekker experience

By Stephen Muir

Before I begin my report proper, I should put my cards on the table: I’m biased! I was born in Zambia, spent quite some time in South Africa as a young child, have family in Durban, and have spent the last nearly ten years visiting South Africa regularly, researching the history and place of music in the country’s Jewish world, and meeting some extraordinary people along the way. In fact, for me personally, this is where the seeds of the whole Performing the Jewish Archive project were planted, even though the project has subsequently expanded across the globe to become something far bigger. So I apologise if I am somewhat more effusive in my recollections of this particular PtJA festival; the others have been equally brilliant.

Personal disclaimers aside; the last of the five ‘Out of the Shadows’ festivals of rediscovered Jewish music and theatre took place in the Western Cape province of South Africa, 10–17 September 2017. Thirteen performances, two academic symposia, twelve venues, eleven world premieres, and total audience numbers approaching 2200 made this among the most well-attended and diverse of the five festivals organised by Performing the Jewish Archive.

Festival opening concert in the Garden Synagogue

The ‘Out of the Shadows’ festivals have all featured engagement with local communities at their heart, be they communities of performers, scholars, religions, or audiences. The Cape Festival brought to fruition partnerships forged over a number of years with major organisations in the region, most prominently (but by no means exclusively) the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Cape Town Holocaust Centre, the Jewish Museum, Stellenbosch and Cape Town universities, the Gardens and Green & Sea Point Synagogues, and significant individuals such as Aviva Pelham, Matthew Reid, Richard Freedman, Gavin Morris, Cantors Ivor Joffe and Choni Goldman, and the leaders of various synagogue communities. Underpinning these groups have been the remarkable first-, second-, and third-generation Cape-based survivors of the Holocaust and the war more broadly, whose support and close interest has always been overwhelmingly positive.

And special tribute must be paid here to the remarkable two-man team of Peter Martens and Charl van Heyningen, without whose unending hard work and good humour (and team of excellent helpers!) this festival could never have taken place.

To provide an adequate review of each event during the festival would occupy many more words than I have here. I hope this brief survey will help to put across the sheer range of performances (and responses to them) that the Cape Festival represented.

The atmosphere of excitement and heightened emotion for the Festival Opening Concert at the Gardens synagogue was palpable. This was this the first time in living memory that the Cape’s two remaining full-time synagogue choirs had performed together non-competitively; the iconic ‘Mother Synagogue’ was buzzing with some 421 audience members; and those present heard instrumental, choral and cantorial music composed in 1920s and ’30s Russia and Poland, but rediscovered in recent years in Cape Town itself.

Miriam Lichterman

Above all, however, was a feeling of immense warmth, of a community hungry for knowledge of its past, and greatly anticipating a week’s celebration of Jewish music and theatre that survived, often against all odds. Performances from Ivor Joffe, Choni Goldman and their respective shul choirs were accompanied by strings and piano, whilst pianist Pieter Grobler previewed music composed in the Warsaw ghetto by child prodigy Josima Feldschuh, later explored in more detail in his concert Fractured Lives.

The opening day concluded with a reception at the Cape Town Holocaust Centre, hosted by the Director of South Africa’s Holocaust and Genocide Foundation, and a true friend to our project, Richard Freedman. The PtJA project exhibition provided a fitting backdrop to a series of mini-performances drawn from the festival programme, concluded by a powerful and intensely moving talk on music in Warsaw before and during the ghetto years. This was delivered by the remarkable Warsaw-born Miriam Lichterman, who survived a series of concentration camps, a death march, and unimaginable suffering before rebuilding her life in South Africa.

A Comedy of Us Jews

Theatre featured prominently in the Cape Festival, represented by three very different productions. A Comedy of Us Jews (1940), by Finnish–Jewish author Jac Weinstein, satirizes the Jewish clothing trade and the consequences of heavy rationing. PtJA researcher Simo Muir’s initial English translation of Weinstein’s Yiddish script had been skilfully adapted by fellow researcher Lisa Peschel and finalized by South African opera legend Aviva Pelham. Rounded off by clarinettist Matthew Reid’s song arrangements and inspired performances from a cast including Michelle Maxwell and Nicholas Ellenbogen, the musical comedy played to two capacity audiences in the old synagogue at Cape Town’s Jewish Museum.

One of PtJA researcher Lisa Peschel’s research outcomes was Prince Bettliegend. This musical revue was created at Stellenbosch University out of an original fragmentary script written by Czech–Jewish prisoners in the Terezín (Theresienstadt) ghetto, drawing also upon surviving Terezín actors’ memories of the song lyrics and plot highlights, and an earlier (and somewhat different) version created for the Sydney Festival (August 2017). The revue received two brilliant performances by students from Stellenbosch’s music and drama departments, and was a disarmingly amusing and satirical reminder that war and involuntary confinement can breed corruption, and challenge even the most fundamental moral norms of society.

Prince Bettliegend

An even greater contrast, the children’s opera Red Riding Hood by Austrian émigré composer Wilhelm Grosz and English author Rose Fyleman featured the highly accomplished Kensington Chorale Girls Choir and Kenmere Primary School Choir in a spirited performance at Parow’s magnificent Hugo Lambrechts Auditorium. The production demonstrated how significant local cultural and societal circumstances can be: The traditional costumes, idyllic woodland setting, and underlying atmosphere of threatened innocence encapsulated in the opera’s excellent Sydney Festival production were here marvellously transformed into sassy characters dressed in onesies and foresters hilariously brandishing pistols instead of old-fashioned shotguns. In the end the wicked yet ‘seriously misunderstood’ wolf gets his comeuppance just the same, to the delight of an enthusiastic audience and PtJA researcher Joseph Toltz, who has tirelessly championed Grosz’s music for a number of years.

One of PtJA’s priorities has been the fostering of new musical and theatrical creative talent. New songs from the Jewish Archive consisted of new pieces (based upon the research of the PtJA team) composed by students of Professors Hendrik Hofmeyr (UCT) and Hans Roosenschoon (Stellenbosch Konservatorium) and featuring singers Minette du Toit Pearce and Jolene McClelland. Highly diverse in style and source material, each song encapsulated an aspect of historical experience interpreted anew for audiences to contemplate within the context of modern conflict and political instability.

The two performances of New songs from the Jewish Archive were paired with two academic symposia, Looking forward through the past. We were honoured to welcome distinguished Professor of Composition Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph (Wits University), whose insights into the individual songs, as well as the whole notion of music that reflects narratives of suffering, were fascinating, informative and challenging all at the same time.

The Baxter Concert Hall

Chamber music was strongly represented in a concert of works by Wilhelm Grosz, Walter Wurzburger, and Werner Baer, all interests of PtJA researcher Joseph Toltz. These composers fled their German/Austrian homes for refuge variously in England, Australia and the United States; and all three continued to experience varying degrees of discrimination at the hands of fellow musicians and broadcasters in their new homelands. The concert brought to light exquisite songs and chamber works that were sidelined primarily because of their composers’ Jewish identity, including world premieres of Wurzburger’s first String Quartet and Grosz’s String Quartet in D Major (Op. 4). The Baxter Concert Hall, with its history of challenging repression and upholding the rights of the oppressed, was a highly appropriate venue for the reintroduction of these unjustly neglected pieces.

The tragically short but artistically remarkable life of child prodigy Josima Feldschuh was placed in close proximity with that of the more established but equally tragic figure of Viktor Ullmann in Fractured Lives: Music of the Holocaust, part of Stellenbosch Konservatorium’s highly regarded Endler Concert Series. Whilst inevitably a little naïve in style, the seven short pieces by the 12/13–year–old Feldschuh revealed the confident and individual musical personality, full of unrealized potential, that had also emerged via performances at earlier ‘Out of the Shadows’ festivals. The subject of PtJA researcher Teryl Dobbs’ research, Feldshuh’s music was rendered sensitively by pianist Pieter Grobler, who described the experience as extremely stimulating, despite knowledge of the circumstances of the music’s composition.

The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra

Wilhelm Grosz composed his Serenade early in his career in Vienna, and its enormous and rather unusual scoring is perhaps one reason that it has dropped from the orchestral repertoire, though Grosz’s personal experiences of exile and discrimination are surely rather more pertinent. The work (edited by Joseph Toltz, with assistance from myself and one of my students) features a double string section, two harps, celeste, piano, large woodwind and brass sections, and even two mandolins (though curiously no trombones), and was performed magnificently by the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Conrad van Alphen, alongside Richard Strauss’s equally extravagant tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra and Schumann’s A minor Cello Concerto.

The final concert of the Cape Festival, and indeed of the whole ‘Out of the Shadows’ series of festivals, was particularly poignant for me personally. Journeys in Jewish Choral Music represented almost a homecoming, in that the choral and cantorial works featured in the concert were mostly the outcomes of research that I undertook in Cape Town between 2012 and 2016. I should pay tribute to the Worldwide Universities Network, the British Academy, and of course the AHRC, whose support has been vital to this work. But equally the families of the composers whose music I conducted with the superb Cape Soloists Choir have been generous beyond measure. These composers fled persecution under the Russian Empire, ending up in Cape Town, and bringing with them their own music manuscripts and those of colleagues and friends left behind. Froim Spektor’s hauntingly beautiful setting of Habet mischamajim ureh, Morris Katzin’s cantorial tour de force rendition of the Kaddish prayer, and works by Spektor’s Rostov-on-Don organist colleague Josef Gottbeter all stand out for me, alongside Eyli, eyli by Finnish composer Simon Parmet (with thanks to PtJA researcher Simo Muir). The concert ended with the work whose discovery amongst Spektor’s papers in 2012 formed the seed that grew into Performing the Jewish Archive: Dowid Ajzensztadt’s extraordinary four-movement Passover Cantata Chad Gadya, composed in Warsaw around 1920, performed with orchestral accompaniment in the city’s Tłomackie Street Synagogue in 1931, but then almost completely forgotten until the early choral draft of the work, retained by Spektor, came to light in Cape Town in 2012.

From left: Stephen Muir, Emma Dolby, Lisa Peschel, Joseph Toltz, Olivia Thomas, Libby Clark, Stefan Fairlamb and Simo Muir.

Despite its relatively low profile and fairly small audience capacity, Rondebosch’s Erin Hall seemed absolutely fitting for this final performance. As the research team, performers and audience emerged into the slowly setting sunlight to celebrate their success in the courtyard afterwards, the concert hall, embedded within the local community and sustained by volunteers and charitable donations, represented for me all that Performing the Jewish Archive stands for: the emergence of all these precious artworks by Jewish musicians and writers—once hidden and nearly forgotten through discrimination, war, even genocide—out of the shadows and back into public light via the agency of dedicated local performers within their own communities.

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‘Getting to know you’ Simo Muir

Tell us about your role in PtJA
I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the project, and my research topic has been artistic and cultural reactions to the Holocaust in Finland. Besides my own research, I have been updating the project website, editing our newsletter, and planning and implementing with my colleagues a database that will contain all the research material and results from the project. I have also been a member of our festival committees, and I have assisted our film crew in finalizing videos for our website. 

What were you doing before working on PtJA?   
I was working in a three year Academy of Finland funded research project called ‘Silences of History’ at the University of Helsinki. This project was about Finland’s relation to the Holocaust, how the Holocaust has been dealt with in Finnish history writing during the Cold War. Before that I was working at the National Archives of Finland cataloguing the Finnish Jewish Archives. 

What’s the best thing about working on a project like PtJA?
There are many excellent things in a big project like this: you get to know many new researchers and make international contacts. I have had wonderful colleagues from whom I have learned many new skills. Besides, the funding has made it possible to prepare a lot of performances, to have my own research material performed on several continents by various fantastic artists and students, which is quite extraordinary.

What do you get the most satisfaction from professionally?
I like working on topics that haven’t been researched earlier, finding historical documents that no-one has seen before. I really get satisfaction from working on such documents and seeing the results of it, be it an article, a book or a performance. In PtJA it has been fantastic to see the whole process, how an artefact from an archive has made it to theatres and concert halls in Sydney, Prague, Madison, Leeds, York and Cape Town. 

What’s the biggest challenge for you on this project?
I think the biggest challenge has been multitasking, trying to concentrate on research, to ponder various new theories, and at the same time plan festivals and produce material for performances, and to try to keep up with the daily routine of reading and writing emails and practical administrative work. 

Outside of work, what are your interests and hobbies?
I like doing things with my hands, like woodworking and painting. This is something that I have learned from my father, who worked as an antique restorer. It has been a bit challenging for the last few years because of not having proper facilities and space to do that. I am also interested in family history and I can spend hours studying old registers and documents.   

Outside of work, what are the top things on your ‘bucket list’?
I have already for a long time done research about my Scottish side of family, and I would like to visit the villages, where my family has lived in Ayrshire, and generally to explore more of Scotland. I would also like to mend an old Georgian grandfather clock from Montrose which I bought when I moved to UK. It still needs quite a lot of work, starting with restoring the clock face with a painting of Queen Mary of Scots fleeing from Loch Lomond.   

If you were stranded on a desert island what three things would you want with you?
The three things I would like to have would be a surfing board, a wet suit and sun cream. I took a surfing course with my colleagues at Bondi Beach in Australia, and I would really like to have another go at learning surfing.   

And finally, the PtJA team are very sad that you are leaving the project at the end of December 2017.  Tell us, what amazing opportunity has tempted you away from the joys of working on PtJA?! 
I have been granted an Honorary Research Fellow post at the UCL Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies. During 2018 I will be working on a Finnish Academy funded project called Roma and Nordic Societies. I am really pleased that the University of Leeds has grated me a reward under the University’s Recognition Scheme for my contribution for the project. The three years in Leeds have been amazing and I will miss my PtJA colleagues.

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The Future of the Archive

Libby Clark (PtJA Project Manager) talks about the final major Performing the Jewish Archive activity, The Future of the Archive conference, taking place at the British Library, London from the 14-16 January 2018.

Plans are currently in full swing for the final major Performing the Jewish Archive project activity – our project conference, The Future of the Archive, which is taking place at the British Library in London from the 14-16 January 2018.

Old ManuscriptsThe conference aims to act as a beacon for further research and builds on three years of activity, based on the premise that performing Jewish archives specifically helps shed light on a host of wider cultural, scientific and political concerns.  We have a packed programme of exciting talks and panel sessions with delegates attending from over the world and representing a wide range of organisations.  Members of the Performing the Jewish Archive team are looking forward to showcasing a range of outcomes from the project, and are looking forward to networking with delegates and hearing more about their research and work. The full programme is available here http://ptja.leeds.ac.uk/conferences/call-for-papers/         

We are delighted to welcome Professor Michael Berkowitz as the conference keynote speaker.  Michael has been a key supporter of Performing the Jewish Archive project activities over the last three years and so we are very pleased that he can be a part of our final conference.   

We are also looking forward to an evening concert of music by Mozart, Klein and Pavel Fischer which will be performed by the Cassia Quartet https://www.cassiastringquartet.com/ on Monday 15 January.  The Cassia performed two concerts back in June 2016 at the Leeds & York at the ‘Out of the Shadows festival’, and we are delighted to welcome them back to our final project event.     

As we lead up to the Christmas break, the conference committee are busy finalising arrangements for what we hope will be a very successful and fulfilling three days.  Do look out for messages from the committee over the coming weeks with information about the practical and logistical elements of the conference.  We are extremely grateful to the British Library for working in partnership with us to host the conference. Particular thank must go to Dr Rupert Ridgewell, Curator of Printed Music at the British Library, for working so openly and collaboratively with us to ensure the success of the conference.

We look forward very much to welcoming you to London in January 2018.  

Libby Clark

Project Manager and Future of the Archive conference committee member

November 2017          

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Wilhelm Grosz on three continents – September and November, 2017

On Thursday 14 September 2017, Wilhelm Grosz’s first large work for orchestra, Serenade Op. 5 was performed by the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Conrad van Alphen.  Having received its premiere with the Dresden Staatskapelle under Franz von Hoeßlin in January 1921 and a repeat performance by the Vienna Philharmonic under Felix Weingartner in the same month, we believe this to be only the third time that the work has been heard.  It was immensely exciting to hear this work in Cape Town, and I am especially grateful to our Principal Investigator, Dr Stephen Muir, for the countless hours he contributed in assisting with score preparation.  Some work still remains to correct minor issues in parts, but interest has now been expressed for more of Grosz’s orchestral repertoire.

Soon after my return to Australia, I participated in an important Symposium at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, entitled “Best Practice in Artistic Research in Music”. Many excellent papers were presented from outstanding research-practitioners across Australia.  My paper, entitled “Family ties: Negotiating ethics in researching and performing private archives”, focused on my work with the Forman-Grosz family in bringing holdings of their archive back to the listening public, through the many performances of Grosz’s work during our five performance festivals.

On Friday 24 November I took part in another Symposium, this time by Skype.  Part of a mini-festival entitled “Entente musicale: Wilhelm Grosz Wien – London – New York”, the symposium was a collaborative initiative of the the Arnold Schönberg Center in Vienna and the Instituts für Wissenschaft und Forschung der Musik und Kunst Privatuniversität der Stadt Wien (MUK).  The evening prior to the Symposium saw students from the MUK directed by Dr Andreas Stoehr in a performance of Grosz’s Bänkel und Balladen Op. 31. According to Dr Michael Haas, Senior Researcher, exilArte Center at the University for Music and the Performing Arts (MDW), the performance was superb. Also included on the program was Schönberg’s Bänkl Lieder and Hanns Eisler’s 14 Ways of Describing the Rain. My paper the next day was entitled “Imperative Aesthetics: the life and stylistic range of Wilhelm Grosz”. Despite concomitant Skype issues, the paper was well received, and I had excellent technical assistance from Philipp Gutmann in showing excerpts from Grosz performances in our various festivals, demonstrating the extraordinary range of aesthetic interests explored during the composer’s life. Enthusiasm and interest in Grosz is building around the world, and this would not have been possible without the performances presented by Performing the Jewish Archive.

The Australian icon Barry Humphries AO CBE was recently featured in a late November documentary on Sky Arts.  Entitled “Passions | Barry Humphries on The Music Hitler Banned”, the documentary explored Humphries’ enthusiasm for music, art, film and theatre of the interwar period in Germany and Austria, including his love and enthusiasm for the music of Wilhelm Grosz. In August we welcomed Mr Humphries at two of the Sydney performances for Performing the Jewish Archive, and we hope to work with him in bringing Grosz to many more audiences in the future. In this endeavour we are incredibly grateful to Jean Forman Grosz, custodian of the family archive, along with Dr. Michael Haas, Professor Gerold Gruber and the ExilArte Zentrum at the MDW (University of Music and the Performing Arts, Vienna).

Dr. Joseph Toltz

Sydney Conservatorium of Music

The University of Sydney

 

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Uncommon Responses to the Holocaust

Left to right: Aurimas Svedas, Eliyana Adler, Rachel Feldhay Brenner, Teri Dobbs, Jennifer Tishler.

PtJA team member, Teri Dobbs, organized a panel of scholars to discuss “Uncommon Responses to the Holocaust” at the recent Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies Conference held November 9 – 12, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois.

Presenting papers were Professor Rachel Feldhay Brenner, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Professor Aurimas Svedas, Vilnius University, Lithuania; and Dobbs. Dr. Jennifer Tishler, Associate Director of the Center for Russia, East Europe, and Central Asia (CREECA), University of Wisconsin-Madison, served as moderator and Professor Eliyana Adler, Pennsylvania State University, served as the panel’s discussant. The following provides a brief description of the panel’s approach:

The Holocaust is often perceived in terms of total extermination of Jews and the predominantly indifferent witnessing bystanders. Particular and often unusual responses of resistance complicate the accepted generalizations. Teryl Dobbs’s paper analyses the case of a young girl, a piano prodigy and composer, Josima Feldschuh, who wrote music and performed in the Warsaw Ghetto but died while in hiding on the Aryan side of Warsaw. Rachel Brenner discusses the case of Zofia Kossak, a rabid antisemite, who not only addressed Poles in an underground leaflet urging a compassionate attitude toward the Jewish victims, but who also established a Council for Aid to Jews. Aurimas Svedas presents the case of Kovno survivor and one of Lithuania’s leaders for intercultural tolerance, Irena Veisaite, who helped to initiate dialogue between Lithuanians and Jews, which were divided in two different ‘memory societies’ after the collapse of Soviet Union. (ASEEES program, 2017)

Dobbs’s paper, “Josima Feldschuh: The Music Behind the Ghetto Walls,” is one of a series of papers that is a direct result of Dobbs’s work with Performing the Jewish Archives and the first to set forth preliminary findings from her investigations of Feldschuh’s compositions and their PtJA performances as socio-cultural musical texts.

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